Victor Verster named heritage site

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Johannesburg - As part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of former President Nelson Mandela's release, the Victor Verster Prison has been named a memorial site.

"The Victor Verster Prison will be considered a memorial site which depicts the experience of the struggle for liberation in South Africa," National Heritage Council CEO Sonwabile Mancotywa announced on Wednesday.

The prison outside the town of Paarl, which is now known as the Drakenstein Correctional Centre, is where Mandela spent the last years of his 27-year-long imprisonment.

Mancotywa said the prison will affirm and assert the liberation heritage which will be showcased not only to South Africans but to international visitors.

Briefing the media on the eve of the commemoration of Mandela's release, Mancotywa said the house will receive world status recognition as a heritage property of universal value when it is finally listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) as part of the National Liberation Heritage Route (NLHR).

Through the NLHR, the council hopes to restore all significant accounts of events, places, epochs and individuals.

The NLHR will also include routes that uncover Madiba's walk to freedom as well as those of other struggle heroes.

The route includes Mandela's place of birth in Qunu, Fort Hare University, his capture site in Howick, Lilleaslief farm which was an ANC -MK headquarters, Robben Island, Pollsmoor Prison and Vilakazi Street in Orlando, among others.

Mancotywa said the prison will go down in history as a place of pain which later became a space to honour, commemorate and symbolise the last lap in the struggle against apartheid.

"From the walls of that prison a legend emerged to teach the world about self-sacrifice, a deep sense of fairness and whose name would be the main carrier and reminder of the story of freedom."

His former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, who held his hand as he walked out a free man on 11 February 1990, said she was grateful for this recognition.

"At last there is recognition of our leaders ... and this will include other leaders such as Oliver Tambo and many others who sacrificed during the struggle."

Madikizela-Mandela said very few people understood how much the imprisonment of freedom fighters affected their families and children.

"Their stories need to be told separately. People do not understand how difficult it was to be a freedom fighter and a mother at the same time," she said.

Madikizela-Mandela's daughter, Zinzi, said although her father's release came at a difficult time, it brought joy.

"Like every other child I wanted my father back home, but I knew that he was not coming back as my father but to lead the country."

Asked about Mandela's health, Zinzi said: "He is fine like any 91-year-old but cuter ... he is jolly as ever. Age has taken its toll but he has not lost his sense of humour."